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Students with deafblindness at the Perkins School for the Blind collection

finding aid


Perkins School for the Blind

Date Range:

1813-1962, bulk 1840-1940

Call Number:



Multiple papers concerning various Perkins students who are deafblind. Papers include correspondence, teacher notes, student works, newspaper clippings and articles, one scrapbook, and many teacher journals.


5 linear feet



Processed by:

Elizabeth Constanti, 2014 ; Scope and contents added by Susanna Coit, 2022.

Processing Note:

This collection was processed with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access, Washington, D.C., 2012-2015.

Biographical/Historical notes:

Perkins is the oldest school for the blind in the United States and the first school to formally educate a person with deafblindness. This began with Laura Bridgman who enrolled in 1837. Bridgman was taught with methods devised by Samuel Gridley Howe, Perkins Founding Director, and included the use of the manual alphabet (or tactile fingerspelling) to communicate. These methods were learned by Perkins graduate Anne Sullivan, and used fifty years later to educate Helen Keller.

In the years between, and for decades afterward, many other children who were deafblind were educated at Perkins. Although Anne Sullivan’s creative, child-guided educational techniques were groundbreaking, the approach to educating Perkins students who were deafblind varied little from Laura Bridgman’s day. Each child had his or her own special teacher, usually a young unmarried woman who was on duty constantly from morning to night, sometimes around the clock. The children attended classes with the other Perkins students, and their special teachers fingerspelled the lessons and provided supplementary information.

Helen Keller enjoyed communicating with the world at large, and she worked hard to learn to speak orally. Keller’s efforts influenced educators of the deafblind to focusing on oral speech. Sophia K. Alcorn of Kentucky developed a method (Tadoma) to teach oral speech to people who were deafblind, and Inis B. Hall introduced it at Perkins. In 1931 Perkins School for the Blind opened a special department for students with deafblindness. Prior to this time, a special teacher was hired for each pupil, but once the new department was established, teachers trained in speech development were hired for classroom instruction, and residential staff was hired for time outside of the classroom. The Tadoma method (named for students Tad Chapman and Oma Simpson), one placed a hand on the face of the speaker, thumbs lightly touching the lips and fingers spread on the cheek and upper neck. The listener could identify speech by feeling air, lip and jaw movement and vibration of the speakers vocal cords as each sound was made. Tadoma was the primary method of teaching speech and language to children who were deafblind until the early 1950s. Mastering Tadoma was very time consuming, and Perkins established a separate Deafblind Program to focus on the needs of those students.

Oliver Caswell (c.1830-1896) was a student of the Perkins Institution alongside Laura Bridgman, who helped educate him under the direction of Dr. Howe. He grew up with his family in Rhode Island. He arrived at Perkins Institution in 1841 and was among the first students who were deafblind. At the age of twelve he began his education at school and he learned the manual alphabet, and how to write and read. He had a talent for woodworking and building, and this was thought to be a future profession for him. Oliver Caswell died in 1896 at the age of sixty.

Edith Thomas was born October 8, 1878 in northern cost, Massachusetts. At the age of four she fell ill with scarlet fever and diphtheria and lost her sight. By age six she lost her hearing as well. She eventually lost her ability to speak and at age eight enrolled in the new Kindergarten for the Blind in Jamaica Plain. In nine months she had a command of 400 words in sign language, and by the time she transferred to the main Perkins Institution in South Boston this number increased to 700. Edith was classmates with Helen Keller. Edith was strong-willed, adept at manual labor skilled in sloyd style woodworking, knitting, and sewing.

Leonard Dowdy came to Perkins School for the Blind in 1932 when he was five years old. He lost his vision and hearing as a result of spinal meningitis, at the age of 21 months. Dowdy used the Tadoma method of communication, whereby he placed his right hand on the speaker’s lips, jaw, and vocal chords. He was able to express himself through speech, as well as tactile sign language. Leonard graduated from Perkins School for the Blind in 1948.

Julia Brace (1807-1884) Born in Newington, CT, Julia Brace became deafblind at the age of 4 and a half, due to Typhus Fever. At seventeen years of age Julia enrolled in what is now known as the American School for the Deaf (previously called Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb). Julia was the first deafblind person to receive instruction, and was taught tactile sign language. In 1842 Julia enrolled at Perkins Institution but did not stay long and left to go back to her familiar sign language at the American School for the Deaf. She lived in Bloomfield, CT with family until her death in 1884.

Sources of information:

Fish, Anna Gardner. “Edith Thomas” in The blind-deaf : A monograph, being a reprint of The Deaf-Blind, with revision and additions / Wade, William. Indianapolis IN: Hecker Brothers, 1904.

Perkins School for the Blind Museum, webpage.

Deafblind History, Minnesota State Academies webpage. Retrieved 3/18/14. 

Julia Brace. Dartmouth College Library Bulletin webpage. Retrieved 3/18/14. 

“Laura Bridgman and Oliver Caswell”. American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb. Vol. 20, Issue 1. 1875. Print.

Perkins School for the Blind Annual Reports




It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Perkins School for the Blind, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Credit line/Citation:

AG54 Students with deafblindness at the Perkins School for the Blind Collection. Perkins School for the Blind Archives, Watertown, MA.


This collection contains journals, writings, correspondence, and other records about students with deafblindness at Perkins between 1813 and 1962 (bulk 1840-1940). Journals are both teacher journals and student journals. Students include Edith M. Thomas, Thomas Stringer, Oliver Caswell, Leonard Dowdy, Julia Brace, Nellie Winitzky, Carmela Otero, Louis Yott, and others. The curriculum, teaching methods, and experiences of the students are discussed in the journals, correspondence, and clippings.


6 manuscript, 24 boxed volumes

  • Series 1: Oliver Caswell
  • Series 2: Edith M. Thomas
  • Series 3: Leonard Dowdy
  • Series 4: Teacher Journals
  • Series 5: Newspaper Clippings & Published Works
    • Subseries 1: Julia Brace clippings
    • Subseries 2: Perkins School/Deafblind related clippings
    • Subseries 3: Perkins students and others who are Deafblind, clippings/works

Related collections:

Students with Deafblindness at Perkins School for the Blind, Digital Collections on Flickr, Perkins School for the Blind Archive.

List of digital collections related to Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan that are available online.

AG59 Laura Bridgman Collection. Perkins School for the Blind Archives, Watertown, MA.

Container List:

Series 1: Oliver Caswell

Box 1

  • B1:F1: Oliver Caswell’s journal, March 8, 1844
  • B1:F2: Letter from Oliver Caswell to Miss. Rogers, Square hand, March 29, 1849
  • B1:F3: Oliver Caswell correspondence, 1882
  • B1:F4: Letter from Oliver Caswell, 1890
  • B1:F5: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated
  • B1:F6: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated
  • B1:F7: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated
  • B1:F8: Writings of Oliver Caswell, undated

Series 2: Edith M. Thomas 8 teacher journals 

  • Box 7: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Miss. Fletcher, 1887  
  • Box 8: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1893-1894 
  • Box 9: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1894-1895 
  • Box 10: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Evelyn Torrey, 1895-1896 
  • Box 11: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher Edith Moultrie Thurston, 1896-1897 
  • Box 12: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1897-1898 
  • Box 13: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1900-1902 
  • Box 14: Edith M. Thomas journal kept by teacher, 1902 
Box 1 
  • B1:F9: Letter entries by Edith Thomas & Miss. Fletcher, removed from teacher journal, 1887-1889   

Series 3: Leonard Dowdy

2 teacher journals

  • Box 15: Leonard Dowdy journal kept by teacher, 1932-1935
  • Box 16: Leonard Dowdy journal kept by teacher, 1936-1938

Box 2

  • B2:F10: Leonard Dowdy reports, 1932-1934
  • B2:F11-21: Leonard Dowdy, reports on, 303 pages, 1934
  • B2:F22: Leonard Dowdy, observational report, 1934
  • B2:F23: Leonard Dowdy, vocabulary development & observational reports, 1934
  • B2:F24: Leonard Dowdy vocabulary lists, 1934
  • B2:F25: Leonard Dowdy report on “Development of Meaningful Language”, 1934
  • B2:F26: Leonard Dowdy vocabulary studies, undated
  • B2:F27: Leonard Dowdy reports on school life & vocabulary lessons, undated

Series 4: Teacher journals 

  • Box 17: Willie Elizabeth Robin, 1905-1906
  • Box 18: Nellie Winitzky, 1905-1907
  • Box 19: Nellie Winitzky, 1907-1911
  • Box 20: Nellie Winitzky, 1911-1912
  • Box 21: Louis Yott, 1907-1908
  • Box 22: Louis Yott, 1907-1911
  • Box 23: Louis Yott, 1912-1914
  • Box 24: Carmella Otero, 1934-1936
  • Box 25: Carmella Otero, 1936-1937
  • Box 26: Patricia Mead Homans, teacher journal kept by Inis B. Hall, 1935
  • Box 27: Margaret & James Allen (twins), 1937
  • Box 28: Ralph Gautz, 1937-1938
  • Box 29: Patrick J. Quealy, 1935-1936
  • Box 30: Dovie May Yocom, 1937-1938

Box 3:

  • B3:F28: Draft of deafblind lesson plan written by teacher Inis B. Hall, [1932]

Series 5: Newspaper Clippings & Published Works

Subseries 1: Julia Brace clippings

  • B3:F29: Julia Brace, Articles & Booklets, deafblind, 1817-1890
    • Julia Brace studio portrait with her name pin pricked at the bottom. Given as a gift to Laura Bridgeman, from a Miss [Storrs]. Written on the back of the photo is; “Julia Brace see 10th Report Appendix D pp. 58-60”, n. d.
  • B3:F30: Julia Brace, deafblind. Hampden Federalist newspaper article, 1818
  • B3:F31: Poem about the Deafblind, The Connecticut Mirror, 1826
  • B3:F32: Julia Brace Collection-Annals of Education and Instruction, 1831
  • B3:F33: The Religious Magazine and Family Miscellany, 1837

Subseries 2: Perkins School/Deafblind related clippings

  • B3:F34: Living Age magazine, American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 1844, 1848
  • B3:F35: Articles/Periodicals related to deafblind, 1849-1897
  • B3:F36: “Four Fortunate Unfortunates” article, The Home Maker magazine, Issue 6, March 1892
Box 4
  • B4:F37: Periodicals with deafblind articles, 1897, 1900, 1902
  • B4:F38: Newspaper clippings & Magazine articles, 1900’s
  • B4:F39: Articles/Newspaper clippings concerning deafblind, 1900’s
  • B4:F40: Silent Worker newspaper vol. XIV Issue 1, Sept. 1901
  • B4:F41: Lottie Sullivan, deafblind, newspaper clippings March 1903
  • B4:F42: British Deaf Times, 1909
  • B4:F43: Volta Review, 1913, 1933
  • B4:F44: The Volta Review, American Annals, 1919, 1911
  • B4:F45: Newspaper Articles, 1935

Subseries 3: Perkins students and others who are Deafblind, clippings/works

  • B4:F46: Lillian Fletcher, teacher/Perkins alum, worked with Edith Thomas, 1864-1932
  • B4:F47: Willie Elizabeth Robin, 1890-1906
  • B4:F48: Helen May Martin, deafblind, d.o.b 1897, (non Perkins student), pianist, 1901-1933
  • B4:F49: Louis Yott, deafblind, reports, 1907
  • B4:F 50: Kathryne May Frick, deafblind, (non Perkins student) educated at Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. Mentions fellow student Grace Pearl who was deafblind, 1909-1930
  • B4:F51: Chester Roberts, 1914
  • B4:F52: Ernest Smith, 1919-1921
  • B4:F53: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), educated at Wisconsin School for the Blind, 1922
  • B4:F54: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), newspaper clippings, copies, 1922-1923
Box 5
  • B5:F55: Willetta Huggins, (non Perkins student), educated at Wisconsin School for the Blind, 1923
  • B5:F56: Helen Shultz, 1926-1929
  • B5:F57: Clarence Goddard, 1926-1930
  • B5:F58: Harley Chatterton, blind, reports on work by Lillian Huset (teacher), 1928-1940
  • B5:F59: Margaret & Jimmy Allen, deafblind, twins, reports of works with, some removed from teacher journal, 1930’s
  • B5:F60: Kathryne M. Frick, (non Perkins Student) educated at Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, 1930
  • B5:F61: Winthrop C. Chapman “Tad”, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931
  • B5:F62: Earl Martin, deafblind, schoolwork reported by Inis B. Hall (teacher), 1931
  • B5:F63: “Perkins Instruction and its Deafblind Pupils”, by Anna Gardner Fish, 1943
  • B5:F64: Helen Siefert, deafblind, clippings, Margaret Hosher (teacher), 1934-1935
  • B5:F65: Helen Siefert, deafblind, education at Perkins, newspaper clippings, 1935-1937
  • B5:F66: Annie Lozo & Grace Casella, students, 1937-1938
  • B5:F67: John Heald, student, Ruth [Frankel] (teacher), Ralph Feleciano (teacher), 1938
  • B5:F68: Vergil Warren, student, Gretchen B. [Wachmer] (teacher), Late 1930’s early 1940’s
  • B5:F69: Robert Baker, student, Maurine Nielson (teacher), Miss. Cambridge (co-teacher), 1940
  • B5:F70: Chan Poh Lin, copied newspaper clippings, 1962
Box 6 (oversized)

“The Deaf Blind at Perkins” scrapbook, original & copy

Subject headings:

  • Perkins School for the Blind.
  • Perkins School for the Blind–History.
  • People who are deafblind–Education.
  • Teachers of people who are deafblind.
  • Keller, Helen, 1880-1968
  • Robin, Elizabeth
  • Brace, Julia, 1807-1884
  • Thomas, Edith, 1882-

Explore more resources from the Archives

Learn more about our collections, including digitized materials, and resources related to the history of Perkins School for the Blind and the history of education for people with blindness or deafblindness.